We wound our way through the busy city streets and then out onto the road that curved along the edges of the magnificent river. A rough and bumpy track led us to the rivers edge where the water hosted a busy crowd on Saturday morning.
A group of teenage boys jumped into the river, taking turns to run further and jump higher than the one before. Women sat patiently waiting for the carefully washed clothes laid out on the sun-baked rocks to dry. Fishermen cast their nets into the rapids, hoping to catch unsuspecting fish carried into their traps by the strong current.
On the other side of the fierce rapids that mark this particular part of the river, the dense fertile forests of Congo Brazzaville creep right up to the waters edge. A bridge juts out into the river from the DRC side, reaching just into the water’s edge before it ends abruptly, an unfinished project, forgotten and laid to waste. At the foot of the bridge men and women sit in the midday heat cracking open river rocks to make gravel. Tap. Tap. Tap. Backbreaking work that results in a pile of gravel they can then sell to the construction companies for a small fee.
A fisherman approaches us asking if we want to ride in his pirogue (hand carved wooden canoe). We all look on dubiously as his friend bails out the water from inside the canoe. Eventually, a price is agreed upon and we step gingerly down the slippery rocks to the waters edge. The fishermen paddle furiously as they cross the fast-flowing current to reach the island that sits in the middle of the river.
The hot white sand squeaks beneath our feet as the fisherman leads us across the island to see the ‘chutes’ of the river Congo. What we see are not waterfalls, but fierce rapids that roar past us at a breakneck speed, the current rising and crashing over the rocks beneath the surface, forcing waves to form several metres high. We watch in silence for a while, in awe of and subdued by the power of the Congo.
Back on dry ground we bid farewell to the fisherman and their wobbly, leaky boat and look back again at the rapids that lie between us and Congo Brazzaville. It is a body of water that provides a livelihood for many here at the waters edge; water, rocks, fish. Yet it is also greatly respected, the powerful currents feared and the crashing rapids avoided at all costs.
The Congo runs through the middle of the country, miles wide in some sections, an entity that is both loved and feared. Like the country itself it draws you in with its beauty, and takes you on a journey filled with unexpected twists and turns, its power at once enchanting and dangerous.